20 travel books to fuel your wanderlust: My all-time favorites!

It’s not always possible to travel, so what keeps a travel addict going? Well, a good travel book is a great way to let yourself wander off to faraway lands and adventures! I love reading a good book and I have digested quite a few travel books that have made an impact throughout the years.

I must admit, I always bring a good book with me on my travels and many of these have been read on secluded off the beaten track Thailand or Cuba beaches or even dorm beds in Australia or Iran.

But even when I am at home, I love to be carried away by vivid travel stories that make me feel like I’m in a different country and culture. A good travel book almost makes you smell the scents of the destination they describe and you completely forget about the world around you.

This is a collection of some of my favorite travel books that will get you hooked!

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Travel books to fuel your wanderlust


Travel books to fuel your wanderlust

Reading travel books is the perfect ethical armchair travel option for when you can’t travel or even when you are traveling. Here are my favorites.


1. Shantaram

Author: Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram is an outstanding novel set in Bombay’s poorest slum, with an insight into a dangerous mafia community. A book that spellbound me more than once. A book you can’t put down once you open the first page.

The main character, Lin, breaks out of a high-security prison in Australia and escapes to Bombay where he lives savagely on the edge between life and death for 8 years, through deep and perilous friendships before he fights a war in Afghanistan in the name of the mafia.

The story is based on the author’s life before he was caught in Germany and faced the rest of his sentence. The two first copies of the book were destroyed by prison guards. Luckily, Gregory didn’t give up, because this book is one of the best I’ve read!


2. In Arabian Nights

Author: Tahir Shah

Last year, I was lucky enough to meet Tahir at a travel conference. He totally spellbound me with his words, and there was no doubt I had to buy his book. In Arabian Night is entertaining, deep, and personal.

Tahir takes you through life in Casablanca and the deep labyrinths of the medinas in Fez and Marrakesh. His intense way of questioning everything in the search of his story brings you closer and closer to the nearly lost traditional, Arabic culture of storytelling.

A truly funny and educational book that makes you want to travel to Morocco for sure! I couldn’t put it down!


3. Marching Powder

Author: Rusty Young

Marching Powder is a book that captured me early in my traveling days. The true story of an English drug dealer caught in the airport of La Paz. The book tells the story of how he survived in a peculiar prison where inmates buy their cells from real estate agents. Women and children live with their criminal families and drug dealers roam the streets.

This is the kind of prison where inmates run shops and restaurants inside the prison and the surviving mechanism is the cocaine. The rich live in luxury cells while the poor bearly survive their day to day in the prison slum where deadly violence and drugs go hand in hand.

A truly intriguing story written by the backpacker, Rusy Young, who went on an illegal tour of the prison with the said inmate and ended up living with him inside the prison for 3 months to write this book.

I got totally caught up by this book and for years I wanted to visit this prison in Bolivia. I’m pretty sure I read a few years ago that they don’t do tours anymore.


4. Holy Cow

Author: Sarah Mac Donald

After a backpacking trip around India that made Sarah hate the country more than anything, a beggar read her hand at the airport and told her she would come back for love. She marched angrily off, determined she would never ever return to this disgustingly chaotic and polluted country!

Eleven years later, she follows the love of her life back to India as he is posted there for work. She becomes extremely sick and almost dies. As a result, she started to travel around India on a quest to find inner peace.

A spiritual and hilariously written book that brings you straight back to India, whether you love or hate the country. I love this book so much!


5. The Hobbit

Author: J.R.R Tolkien

The first book I can remember reading that really made me want to get out and wander! I was captured. And I was going to pack my little day pack and walk this world. I was 10 years old.

You might have seen the movie about the hobbit Bilbo and his first adventure, where he accidentally meets Gollum and finds “The Ring”, but have you read the book?

The book is so much better than the movie. Tolkien is a huge storyteller who uses a great sense of humor through a descriptive and dangerous adventure! If you want to disappear into the land of dwarfs and elves on an incredible hiking adventure, this is the book for you.

And you might just want to continue to the next book in the author’s series, the most famous of them all.


6. The Lord of The Rings

Author: J.R.R Tolkien

The trilogy that follows up on Bilbo’s story in The Hobbit was made into one of the most popular films of history. To be honest, the film doesn’t give the book credit at all! I read the book for the first time when I was 10 years old, after finishing The Hobbit. It is still today one of the best books I’ve ever read.

While J.R.R. Tolkien takes you through a detailed fantasy story, for me it will always be about wanderlust, about exploring the unknown and meeting with different people from different worlds. It’s a bold book about going outside your comfort zone and, well, saving the world!

If you don’t get wanderlust by reading this trilogy, I don’t know what will. It surely will keep you busy for a long time.


7. The Heart of India

Author: Mark Tully

After spending 20 years in the country working for BBC, the author’s love for India made him put together a series of short stories about very different people, set in Uttar Pradesh.

These are stories you won’t read about in the news, they are stories of the small communities deep in the country where strong beliefs and pride rule.

Tully brings you stories about corrupt court systems, revenge, and breaching of the caste system. Stories that will spellbind you and realize how deep the culture and tradition are in Indian villages where tourists never go.


8. Eat Pray Love

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

In this memoir, the author takes us through her world trip as she recovers from a divorce. Eating herself through Italy, praying in India, and finding love in Bali. This book is a feel-good read that takes you through the phases of finding herself.

This has been a book that has inspired me to travel to Bali, and I still haven’t. And even though I’m partly brought up in Italy, it still makes me want to go there. Not to talk about India, the country that has captured my heart.


9. Lion: A Long Way Home

Authors: Larry Buttrose and Saroo Brierley

This is such an incredibly powerful book, and I made the mistake of seeing the movie first. Nonetheless, it’s an amazing true story of a little boy who got lost on a train in India without knowing the name of his village.

After miraculously surviving the streets in Kolkata, he finally got rescued and adopted by a loving family in Australia.

As an adult, he spent years on Google Earth searching for his hometown to find his roots and birth family.

A story that will touch you for sure!


10. Into The Wild

Author: Jon Krakauer

The heartbreaking and deep story of a young man from a rich family who gave all his savings to charity, got rid of his car and belongings and burnt the rest of his cash to wander into the wilderness in Alaska. He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp when freed from the material world.

The book is built on the true story where no one knows for sure what happened from the young Supertramp was dropped off when hitchhiking and found dead in the wilderness months later by a moose hunter.

A touching book that will make you cry but also think about the deeper meaning of life.


11. Seven Years in Tibet

Author: Heinrich Harrer

This is the incredible story of the mountaineer Heinrich Harrer who climbed the Himalayas as the Second World War broke out in Europe.

He was imprisoned in India and escaped to the Forbidden City in Tibet. A place he spent 7 years, became a close friend to the Dalai Lama and developed a deep understanding of Tibet.

A truly beautiful book that every travel addict needs to read at least once in their lifetime.


12. Kon-Tiki

Author: Thor Heyerdahl

Do I need to say more than that Thor Heyerdahl has been my hero since I was I kid? He truly inspired me to explore the world in an untraditional way.

Kon-Tiki is the story of his 3-months journey across the Pacific in a bamboo raft. The dangerous expedition was to prove his theory that the South Sea Islands once had been settled thousands of years ago by sailors coming thousands of miles east from there.

If he could sail the stretch on a bamboo raft, then they would be able to do so back then too.

The book tells about the dangers the sailors met on their journey, the struggles of 6 men stuck on a small raft, and the joy of eventually seeing land.


13. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker

As a successful lawyer disappears without a trace from his life in New York, his wife and daughter find an old love letter written to a mysterious Burmese woman. The daughter decides to travel to Burma to dig into her father’s history.

She reveals a passionate love story that will keep you reading until late hours.


14. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Author: Cheryl Strayed

I was so lucky to meet Cheryl Strayed on a travel conference and her story captured me straight away. I knew I had to read her book.

In Wild, she takes the reader through her own journey of finding herself after hitting rock bottom after her mother’s death. Unprepared as few, she headed off on a 3 months hiking journey through the Pacific Crest Trail from south to north.

This book takes you through all the stages of emotions, the vulnerability and strength of a solo female hiker, and an mesmerizing North American nature scene.

Wild is a truly touching book that took me through my own journey of emotions. Highly recommendable!


15. The Hakawati

Author: Rabih Alameddine

The book unfolds around a father’s deathbed in Beirut. When the family gathers, the stories unfold. The dying father was a storyteller, a Hakawati.

The Hakawati’s spellbinding stories blend with classic stories from the Middle East and give you a deep dive into the history and stories from that part of the world.

A book you will have difficulties putting down for sure!


16. Under The Tuscan Sun

Author: Frances Mayes

A beautiful memoir about how the author fell in love with an old villa in mesmerizing Tuscany. She bought it and tells the reader the beautiful story of how she made her new life in Italy, including a whole lot of good food!

A book to fall in love with. And a book that will make you move to Tuscany too. Under The Tuscan Sun is a book that is close to my heart.


17. The Alchemist

Author: Paulo Coelho

I don’t think any list of travel books can be complete without Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It is without a doubt one of the top books about travel and self-discovery.

This is a deep story of an Andalusian shepherd boy who starts to travel through northern Africa. Along the way, he learns about the wisdom of following his heart and follow his dreams. As you go on this journey with the little boy, Santiago, you will learn to see the world in a different way, as if you were traveling yourself.

Paulo Coelho is famous for his wise quotes. One of my favorite quotes from this book is “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”

This is a book that will teach you new things about yourself every time you read it.


18. The Beach

Author: Alex Garland

Most of you have probably seen the movie The Beach, set in Thailand with a young Leonardo di Caprio. Well, there is the book too, and honestly, I think it’s even better than the movie.

Set in Thailand, it’s all about a young backpacker’s search for a secret beach and his time there in the small community of backpackers. Isn’t this all backpackers want? Find that hidden gem?

Well, this story tangles up as this seemingly idyllic place shows a dark and deadly side to it and will have you intrigued until the end.


19. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

Author: Deborah Rodriguez

This is the story of 5 very different women with very different backgrounds and secrets who meet in a small coffee shop in Kabul. An intriguing story from a little corner in a dangerous war zone.

Deborah brings out the culture, real life, love, friendships, and dangers of a traditional Kabul that somewhat make these characters stay. That also will make you stay there with them.

A touching story and a book I could hardly put down.


20. Three Cups of Tea

Authors: Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

“Here we drink three cups of tea to do business: the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything – even die”

-Haji Ali, Korphe Village Chief, Karakoram Mountains Pakistan

This is the true story of the former mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, who after a failed attempt to climb K2 was welcomed in a poor mountain village in Pakistan. His bond to the villagers made him promise to come back and build a school.

Mortenson did come back and he has built more than 50 schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan by making connections with people and bringing people together.

This is an incredible story of humanity, kindness, and the power of love in a Taliban-infested area. It is so well written that you will be addicted from the first page.

I love stories like this, they are in the true spirit of Brainy Backpackers!

Travel books to fuel your wanderlust: my all-time favorites


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8 thoughts on “20 travel books to fuel your wanderlust: My all-time favorites!

  1. Soujanya says:

    The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul sounds like it’s right down my alley. Thanks for this wonderful list of recommendations!

    • Linn Haglund says:

      I’m sure you’ll love The Little Coffee Shop in Kabul it’s such a great novel:)

  2. Bettina says:

    I have read some of these but definitely not all! I would love to get back into reading and get some travel books! Thanks for sharing!

    • Linn Haglund says:

      I hope you get back to it! Reading travel books is a great way to “travel” right now when we can’t go physically:)

  3. Julie | Outdreaming says:

    I’ve been needing some new books to read, and to somehow quench my wanderlust during quarantine— so this list is super handy!!

    • Linn Haglund says:

      I’m glad you found it useful! I wish you good luck with managing your wanderlust;) I know I would struggle without books and sources.

  4. Jen says:

    Ahh thank you for this list! I’ve been looking for new books to read and most of these are new to me ? I’ll have to check a few of them out!

    • Linn Haglund says:

      You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy jour “travel journey” through them:)

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